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On April 17th, NASA's oldest surviving and hardest working Space Shuttle, Discovery took off one last time from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. However, this was not a typical launch off into Space, but a rather tame flight piggybacked above a modified NASA 747 to the retired Shuttle's final resting place at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Virginia.
While the destination may not have been as exotic, Discovery generated almost as much excitement as it performed a flyby over its new home and then over all Washington D.C.'s downtown national monuments before landing gracefully, at Dulles International Airport, to the welcoming cheers of thousands of fans.
However, before Discovery settles down in its new home, Enterprise, the first Space Shuttle Orbiter ever built, will have to be removed and latched on to the same NASA 747, so that it can be transported to its new home - The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. Named after Star Trek's fictional starship, the Shuttle had no engine or heat shield and was built to conduct ground and gliding tests only. In contrast, Space Shuttle Discovery has been on 39 missions, completed 5,830 orbits, flown 148 million miles and spent a total of 395 days in Space.
NASA's shuttle program began in 1981 with the launch of Space Shuttle Columbia. Over the years, four other Shuttles were added, and between them they completed 135 successful missions, orbited the Earth 21,152 times and spent, a total of three and half years in Space.
Of the five, two met with unfortunate accidents - Space Shuttle Challenger blew up shortly after take-off in 1986, whist the oldest, Columbia, met with a similar fate whilst returning from a mission in 2003.
In 2011, thirty years after it all began, NASA decided to retire the Space Shuttle Program and focus on more exciting destinations like the moon and Mars. While Discovery has reached its final destination - two others are Endeavor and Atlantis are still being de-commissioned. When ready, the former will head to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, while Atlantis will remain on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Resources: Dailymail.co.uk, nationalgeographic.com, wikipedia.org, NASA.gov